Lawyer: Saddam's Morale High

After nearly 10 months of court proceedings, Saddam Hussein's chaotic trial is finally drawing to a close. Charged with ordering the murder of 148 Shiites from the village of Dujail in 1982, the deposed Iraqi dictator has been prone to angry outbursts in the courtroom, often simply using the trial as a forum to vent about America. Several witnesses have failed to appear on their designated day; others have simply been discredited. The chief judge resigned, while the prosecutor has been accused of trying to bribe witnesses into giving false testimony. And to top it all off, three of Saddam's lawyers have been murdered. With the defense team set to begin its closing arguments on July 10, Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam's lead counsel, finds himself at the center of this courtroom circus. NEWSWEEK's Malcolm Beith and Ranya Kadri spoke to al-Dulaimi last week in Amman, Jordan. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: What is Saddam's mood these days?

Khalil al-Dulaimi: His morale is very high. He's spending his time writing poetry and [working] on his defense. He's asked me for some books on legal issues, and also old Arabic poetry and literature books.

His morale is high? You recently implied to reporters that he expected execution.

I can promise that his morale is very high. Saddam Hussein fights for what is right. Whether he gets capital punishment or not, he's not afraid.

You know him as a person rather than just as a president. He really has no fear?

Not at all. He's not afraid, as a president or a person.

You recently implied that the United States might cut some sort of deal with Saddam in order to bring peace to Iraq.

Saddam will not do deals with anyone. The Americans are in trouble in the Iraqi swamp. Saddam said before the aggression that the moguls would commit suicide on the walls of Baghdad. This is happening now. [So] the United States is now knocking on every door. They've assigned many [Iraqi] governments, but all these governments have failed in providing security and bringing back a good way of life to the Iraqi people. None of their promises were accomplished. Both Iraqis and the American military are suffering. After the Americans realize that all their calculations failed, they will come to the right road, and it will be the road the Iraqi people want, which will be the legal leadership. This will save the Americans and the Iraqis from their crisis. The Americans will knock [on] the right door to get rid of the mess in Iraq.

By knocking on the right door, do you mean approaching Saddam directly?

Saddam Hussein was chosen by the people …

Will the United States approach Saddam?

When the coalition decided to go to war with Iraq, they did it for two reasons: weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's involvement with terrorists. Saddam had nothing to do with [terrorists], and there are no weapons of mass destruction. Then the Americans and the Coalition created another lie, the trial. The reason behind this trial is to punish Saddam Hussein and his accomplices, and also to punish the Iraqi people and insult the Arabs and Muslims. The Arabs and Muslims feel this humiliation. Because of this, the American people have lost the respect and love of many generations to come.

The people are behind [Saddam]. Even the people who fought Saddam now want him back. The court has revealed Saddam's innocence to anyone who used to doubt that Saddam might have done these things. It's natural that the USA will knock on his door.

On Saddam's door?

Saddam Hussein represents the people, and it's impossible for the Americans to knock on the doors of 27 million people's houses. So they will knock on the door that represents those people. And Saddam Hussein represents those people.

OK, it's agreed that WMD have not been found, and no proof of terrorist links has emerged. But this trial has nothing to do with that. As you begin your closing arguments, what do you plan to say?

The court is illegitimate. The United States changed the laws and made a court case. This is against the law. Saddam Hussein is a prisoner of war. He has a number. War prisoners cannot be tried. The Iraqis have not signed a submission treaty like the Japanese. The war is not over. [Saddam] should have his title and his rank, and he should have all his medals and all his rights. The trial is not constitutional and does not represent the will of the Iraqi people. It punishes the people because Saddam Hussein represents the Iraqi people.

Is this the sort of argument we'll hear next week?

The lawyers are able to say whatever they want. Our defense in the court is that we're on the right path and the others are on the wrong path. The court is illegitimate and not constitutional and against the Geneva Convention.

This trial has been marred by security fears. Three lawyers from your defense team have been killed. Are you concerned for your own safety?

Yes. The security of me and my family is in danger. I have been subjected to 13 assassination attempts. If the Americans want to have a fair trial they have to first provide security for the lawyers and their families.

Do you have any plans for after the trial?

I can't predict what will happen tomorrow. I have a right to write [about] all my experiences—my memoirs—from this case. It's my right to write a book in my name and to tell the truth. My memoirs will contain all the facts, and I will reveal many details that will serve justice and the truth. I will also include letters with the name and the signature of Saddam Hussein.

You'll reveal details that will serve justice and truth? Wouldn't they be useful in the courtroom?

These have nothing to do with the court case. Even if they did, the court case is not interested in facts.